You're planning to throw some teriyaki tofu on the grill - but will you disturb your inner universe if you boil up a side of brown rice to go with that? Food-combining experts - the Natural Hygiene school of alt-health nutrition, diet guru Suzanne Somers and Fit for Life exponents - think so. They all urge against mixing food types on your plate. Don't munch fruit with any other edible combo, enthusiasts warn, and above all don't dine on starch and protein at the same time (there goes your lunch sandwich). Mix fat and protein? Don't even think about it (bye-bye fried eggs). According to this dietary philosophy, different foods require different enzymes and pH environments for their digestion (acid or alkaline), and one stomach cannot deal at one time with all the diverse chemical demands created by a mixed meal.
What happens when you violate the code? Combo theorists insist this will mean inefficient digestion that leads to food rotting in the digestive tract, poisoning the body. Such "putrefactive wastes" are also said to lead to weight gain.
But there are certainly a lot of experts who think these ideas are all out to lunch. It is possible to lose weight on a food-combining diet, they say, probably because the regimen forbids junk food and lowers calorie intake. But according to those who know their physiology, little digestion takes place in the stomach, and the body actually functions better when different types of food are eaten together.
The experts' clinical experience indicates that there might be something to this for people with severe digestive problems. But if your tummy hurts that badly, you need a dietician or doctor. Otherwise it's best to ignore this kind of faddish prohibition and stick to a nutritious, meat-light and multigrain diet loaded with veggies and fruit.
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
"You want to let foods ferment and digest at their own specific rates without interference. When you don't combine food properly, it puts a huge strain on the body. You will get gas, bloating and cramping, and the foods will not deliver their nutrient value. You also develop mucus buildup in the bowel, along with putrefied meat and a number of different toxic materials. When people eat correctly their weight drops off, their energy level and mood pick up. Food combining is an incredible way to strengthen and energize the whole body. It takes one week to notice the difference."
CLIVE BUIRSKI, nutritional consultant, Sarasota, Florida "Putrefaction requires bacteria. The stomach has a pH of 1; no bacteria can live there. That's the purpose of the stomach, to kill bugs. (Most digestion occurs in the small intestine; putrification can occur in the large bowel.) You need to have all those digestive processes (of fat, protein and starch) going on simultaneously - it integrates and orchestrates the normal hormonal response to food digestion. Healthy people don't have indigestion - it's caused by stress, irregular eating and people selecting one food group over another. In our clinical trials we feed mixed meals and we don't see problems."
PETER JONES, professor of nutrition, McGill University, Montreal "I do believe there is a problem with getting too many things on your plate at once. I think it becomes stressful on the digestion. Where I see a big problem, though, is the balancing of blood-sugar levels. When you combine a protein and a carbohydrate, the blood-sugar levels stay more stable. Unbalanced blood sugar levels can cause irritability, fatigue, insomnia, food cravings and over the long term possibly obesity or difficulty losing weight. I encourage people to try fruit on its own - some people just do better this way."
TANNIS McLAREN, naturopath
"Food combining doesn't stand the test of time when it comes to following a healthy eating plan. It's not realistic to be constantly separating major food groups. There are circumstances when for digestive disorders these things have to be considered; that's in extreme cases. It's good to eat a fresh fruit or vegetable before every meal. These foods contains enzymes that help digest the food that's coming."
KERRI SHERK, dietitian
"Food combining is a very Western idea. In Chinese medicine we look at food in terms of the five flavours and the so-called temperature of the food. Chinese medicine is very concerned with food stagnation in the body. A little too much of something or something rich can cause it. The food will not be broken down adequately and will cause pain and discomfort, a feeling of fullness, gas or bloating. The digestive fire is stronger in the first half of the day - it might be best to have one's biggest meal at lunch."
MIRIAM ERLICHMAN , traditional Chinese medicine practitioner